In terms of a guest blogger for a youth ministry site specialising in urban environments me writing this is a little incongruous. First of all I’m sat in a coffee shop in rural England (although they seem to have discovered ‘London prices’) and secondly I’m and expert in children’s ministry. However, there are good reasons why its ok: my trip to the countryside is temporary, in my real life I work for the Diocese of London but more importantly it seems to me that the boundaries between children’s and youth work are becoming rather blurred.
Partly this is driven by pragmatic factors like younger children turning up at groups either because they have come with an elder sibling who is supposed to be looking after them or because they are at a loose end themselves and looking for something to do; it’s always hard to turn younger children away. More reflective reasons drive this too,
a lot of agencies are realising that if we wait to engage with young people until they are teenagers we may have missed our best opportunity to influence their life for good.
I think this is very positive, the churches role in ‘holding the narrative’ of the lives of children through transition and in the chaos of urban life is crucial; establishing this early is clearly a good thing and easier done with younger children than teenagers.
So as a children’s expert what would I want to say to youth leaders who are experiencing this drift.
1 . Play is crucial for children. I know as I’ve said that you’ve imagined a Brio railway or a Wendy house but I don’t really mean that! What I mean is that children don’t think abstractly like teenagers and so they process their thinking by playing with the ideas.
So rather than expecting children talk about concepts they will engage with ideas best by activities that allow them to play with a theme.
It can be as simple as working with you on a bit of free art. Don’t let the hardness that some children who have had a difficult time display; they will still want to play when they trust you.
2. You as a person is really important. If children feel a sense of belonging then they will buy into your group’s beliefs and values.
Knowing names, asking how things are going and remembering their news is really simple but powerful.
If think back to the leaders of groups you attended as a child; you can probably remember little of the content but you most likely can remember the names of the usual leaders.
3. Resist the urge to teach. Once children feel they belong they become like sponges and the risk is we use this opportunity to teach children everything we think they need to know to get on in life. If we do this we miss the opportunity to give them the tools they need to think for themselves.
Being able to make good choices about any issue because they have good reflective processes will do children more good than trying to teach them by rote how they should respond to the various issues they may face as teenagers.
You know this because you’ve been doing it for teenagers for years!